400 Western Ave.

400 Western Ave. offers a centrally located if awkward location for potential business development. It’s gotten plenty of interest from potential developers, but no deal has yet managed to get to the finish line. (Andrew Deziel/southernminn.com)

Variances from setback and flood buffer requirements are being allowed to expire on an awkward but centrally located west side property largely due to a study of one of the city’s busiest intersections.

The variances for the 400 Western Ave. property — between Morristown Boulevard and Grant Street — were first approved by the Faribault’s City Council in 2018, when it seemed the parcel would soon be home to a phone retailer. Agreements were signed but included several exit clauses, one which the retailer reportedly utilized.

For the last several years, Tristan Cox has been trying to sell the .59-acre property on behalf of his late father Raymond’s trust. Ray initially bought the property with the intent of developing a jewelry store on the site, but the agreement fell through at the last minute.

Over the roughly 15 years that the Coxes have owned the property since then, Tristan Cox said that they have come extremely close to selling it on four or five separate occasions, the most recent being the phone store proposed in 2018. In addition to those negotiations, there’s been many more times that developers have drawn up plans for the site and shared them with the city. However, Cox himself conceded that the triangle-shaped property brings challenges that have proven dealbreakers time and again.

Drawings provided to the council show the possibility of a drive-thru on the property. That would make plenty of sense, given that the location sits in close proximity to I-35 and two of the city’s major thoroughfares.

Ironically, the unusually shaped site’s central location is both its biggest asset and drawback. Located at one of the city’s busiest intersections, it could be extremely difficult to get in and out of during peak traffic times.

Community and Economic Development Director Deanna Kuennen said that the biggest reason the variances are being allowed to lapse is because now, the Minnesota Department of Transportation is studying ways to improve traffic at that intersection.

The study is in extremely early stages, and little information is available on it from either the Rice County Highway Department or MnDOT. However, one option under consideration is adding a turn lane that would take up part of the property. If the study does result in any alterations to the property, the property would once again have to go through the process of seeking variances. In addition, Kuennen said that the variance extensions granted by the council in recent years should not be considered regular practice.

Given its challenges, Mayor Kevin Voracek said that it would take a special business to invest in the property to make it work. For his part, Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism President Nort Johnson encouraged the city to think outside the box.

“While the location is prime, the size of the lot and access near the intersection make it awkward,” he said. “(But) it could have a wonderful informational stand for the (Sakatah) trail.”

Reach Reporter Andrew Deziel at 507-333-3129 or follow him on Twitter @FDNandrew. © Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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